（Lagopus muta japonica / snow grouse / ptarmigan）
Designated as one of Japan’s Special Natural Monument, this resident bird living in high mountains do not change their habitat regardless of season. 6 genus 17 species of birds of this family are found in the world, and the genus Lagopus that Raicho belongs to are known to be most adapted to cold climate. Their habitats range widely throughout the Eurasian and North American Continent. Japan is the southern limit of the habitat of Lagopus, where its subspecies Raicho lives only in limited areas including the Kubiki Mountains, the Northern Alps, Mt. Norikura, Mt. Ontake, and the Southern Alps.
Of the above mentioned habitats in Japan, the population in the Mt. Norikura Area lying between Matsumoto City, Nagano, and Takayama City, Gifu, are said to be relatively large and stable. On the whole, however, the population of Raicho in Japan, which is said to have been over 3,000 in 1984, is in decline. The latest research estimates current population to be less than 2,000; the primary factors considered to be 1) expanding habitat range of fox and crow, natural enemies for Raicho, 2) pollution, 3) shrinking habitats due to human activity, and 4) increase of deer, affecting the flora of Raicho habitats. Decrease in population being prominent, the bird was designated Endangered Species in Japan Ministry of Environment Red List in 2012. Continuous actions based on Raicho Conservation & Breeding Program has ever since been taken, and the population in Mt. Norikura is currently under close monitoring.
Origin of Name “Raicho”
Records of the bird being called Raicho, or literally, Bird of Thunder, date back to early 13th century. There are several hypothesis regarding the origin of the name: One being the bird regarded as the charm against lightning and fire. Another states that the bird is called so because they are more active in thunderstorms and bad weather to avoid enemies. In the view of ancient mountain worship in Japan, mountains were the place where gods resided, and the Raicho was regarded as messengers from god.